I try to avoid having regrets.
As a child, that was the main emotion I hated experiencing. If I did something I regretted I couldn’t turn back time to make a different choice, no matter how much I wanted to. I fucked up; now I had to live with the outcome.
No option B.
So from a young age I tackled that beast of an emotion head-on and made a conscious choice to avoid feeling it wherever possible. I became a master of reframing things and seeing the positives in wherever my choices might lead me. I developed a sense of “fate” so I could go with the flow more easily and learn to let go of mistakes with a shrug and a “this is where I’m meant to be.”
But there are still a few niggling regrets hanging on, refusing to allow me let go.
Most of them are things I didn’t do, like not spending more time with a beloved cousin who died in a car crash; or not hooking up with someone I later developed a crush on, back when I had the chance; or not staying at the pub my favourite band walked into mere minutes after I’d left.
But one thing in particular that I did do is still a bit of a canker on my conscience a good 20 years after the fact.
Back in my final years of high school I was best buds with a girl I’ll call Star. Along with a couple of other close friends, we were inseparable. She helped turn me onto the goth scene and we’d hang out most afternoons and weekends listening to music and hitting up comic- and esoteric-book stores and sneaking into cemeteries at night to have deep conversations by the light of the moon.
By the end of year 12, though, we’d morphed more into frenemies. I’d have mammoth bitching sessions about her with mutual friends and the whole dynamic in our little gang became quite toxic. I ended up trying to “help” by confronting her with all the issues we had with her and suggesting changes she could make to be more likeable.
(In my defence, I had put myself through a similar process a few years previously when I realised I had very few friends and that maybe if I stopped being such a prickly, harsh bitch to everyone things would improve. I freaking hated being a teenager…)
Things kind of improved for a bit, but the damage was done. By the end of school I wrote her a letter basically saying I thought it would be better if we didn’t hang out anymore as I really doubted she was going to change and I was sick of all the drama.
She wrote me a letter back that was a much-needed slap in the face. I can’t remember the exact wording anymore (thankfully) but it cut to my very core and left me bawling and ashamed. She quite rightly told me that I was out of line for demanding that she make all these changes and pulled me up on my arrogance and selfishness for not listening to her needs and desires.
It was too far gone to fix anything: the friendship ended. We politely ignored one another whenever we crossed paths and then she disappeared for a while. We bumped into each other at a party a few years later and had a really lovely conversation that filled me with hope for a lasting resolution, but then she disappeared again.
I bumped into her sister a few years ago and through her I managed to track Star down on Facebook. I sent her a friend request and private message saying how much I regretted the way I treated her back in the day and reassuring her how much I’d changed – thanks, in part, to the wake-up call she gave me.
Then I went and posted a sanctimommy status update full of judgement over some blog post or something doing the rounds at the time. *facepalm* (I freaking hated being a first-time mum…)
She didn’t write back or accept my friend request.
I tried again to put that past regret behind me and finally move on.
Then, just last week, I walked past her, her partner, and their young son, while crossing a busy street in the opposite direction. I doubt she saw me, but I was immediately jolted back into the memory of that remorseful, bawling 18-year-old I was when I read her letter.
I caved and googled her this evening. She’s making a living as a very talented freelance graphic designer, specialising in books. Her son is in a Montessori preschool and the photos in her blog post about his birthday party were taken in a park that is a 20-minute walk away from my house. She even blogged about going overboard with his party decorations and micromanaging the whole event!
We have so much in common and clearly still live close to each other. I am so tempted to reach out again but feel like the deep shame I still feel about how I treated her will taint any effort I make.
The fatalistic part of me is in turmoil. Am I meant to reconnect now? Is this awful business meant to finally be resolved? Or is the universe trying to teach me that I still have far to go in my journey of self-discovery; that I need more practice with letting go?
I just know I still feel horribly sad and ashamed by my behaviour back then.
I’m a much better listener these days: maybe if I actually sit with this sadness – rather than pushing it away – I will finally learn to hear the many secrets it still has yet to whisper.
This time, for sure.